|Can an Omega-3 Fatty Acid Slow the Progression
of Alzheimer’s Disease?
NIH-Supported Researchers Launch Nationwide Trial
Nutritionists have long endorsed fish as part of a heart-healthy
diet, and now some studies suggest that omega-3 fatty acids found
in the oil of certain fish may also benefit the brain by lowering
the risk of Alzheimer’s disease. In order to test whether an omega-3
fatty acid can impact the progression of Alzheimer’s disease, researchers
supported by the National Institute on Aging (NIA), part of the
National Institutes of Health, will evaluate one in a clinical
trial, the gold standard for medical research.
The study will be conducted nationwide by the Alzheimer’s Disease
Cooperative Study (ADCS), a consortium of leading researchers supported
by NIA and coordinated by the University of California, San Diego.
The trial will take place at 51 sites across the United States
and seeks 400 participants age 50 and older who have mild to moderate
Alzheimer’s disease. Joseph Quinn, M.D., associate professor of
neurology at Oregon Health and Science University, is directing
Researchers will be evaluating primarily whether the omega-3 fatty
acid DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), taken over many months, slows
the progression of both cognitive and functional decline in people
with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s. During the 18-month clinical
trial, investigators will measure the progress of the disease using
standard tests for functional and cognitive change.
“The evidence to date in observational and animal studies on omega-3
fatty acids and Alzheimer’s disease warrants further evaluation
in a rigorous clinical trial,” says NIA Director Richard J. Hodes,
M.D. “This study is one of a number we are undertaking in the next
few years through the ADCS to test compounds that might play a
role in preventing or delaying the symptoms of this devastating
“By participating in this study, volunteers will make an invaluable
contribution to Alzheimer’s disease research progress,” says Quinn,
the study’s principal investigator. “We are indebted to those who
graciously volunteer to participate in clinical studies.”
The trial will use DHA donated by Martek Biosciences Corporation
of Columbia, Md. Participants will receive either two grams of
DHA per day or an inactive placebo pill. About 60 percent of participants
will receive DHA, and 40 percent will get the placebo. Doctors
and nurses at the 51 research clinic sites will monitor the participants
in regular visits throughout the trial. To ensure unbiased results,
neither the researchers conducting the trial nor the participants
will know who is getting DHA and who is getting the placebo.
In addition to monitoring disease progression through cognitive
tests, researchers will also evaluate whether taking DHA supplements
has a positive effect on physical and biological markers of Alzheimer’s,
such as brain atrophy and proteins in blood and spinal fluid.
To learn how to participate in the study, contact NIA’s Alzheimer’s
Disease Education and Referral (ADEAR) Center at 1-800-438-4380
or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
To view a list of the research sites, go to http://www.nia.nih.gov/Alzheimers.
NIA leads the federal effort supporting and conducting research
on aging and the medical, social and behavioral issues of older
people, including Alzheimer's disease and age-related cognitive
decline. For information on dementia and aging, please visit the
NIA's ADEAR Center at www.nia.nih.gov/alzheimers,
or call 1-800-438-4380. For more general information on research
and aging, go to www.nia.nih.gov.
The National Institutes of Health (NIH) — The Nation's
Medical Research Agency — includes 27 Institutes and
Centers and is a component of the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services. It is the primary federal agency for conducting
and supporting basic, clinical and translational medical research,
and it investigates the causes, treatments, and cures for both
common and rare diseases. For more information about NIH and
its programs, visit www.nih.gov.